Black House

Page 229

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Sophie ignores this. She is looking at the silent, sleeping man in the other room.

"Condemned to live in such a pleasant land as this . . ." She turns to him. "It is a pleasant land, isn’t it, sirrah? Still a pleasant land, in spite of all?"

Parkus smiles and bows. Around his neck, a shark’s tooth swings at the end of a fine gold necklace. "Indeed it is."

She nods briskly. "So living here might not be so terrible."

He says nothing. After a moment or two, her assumed briskness departs, and her shoulders sag.

"I’d hate it," she says in a small voice. "To be barred from my own world except for occasional brief visits . . . paroles . . . to have to leave at the first cough or twinge in my chest . . . I’d hate it."

Parkus shrugs. "He’ll have to accept what is. Like it or not, his gills are gone. He’s a creature of the Territories now. And God the Carpenter knows there’s work for him over here. The business of the Tower is moving toward its climax. I believe Jack Sawyer may have a part to play in that, although I can’t say for sure. In any case, when he heals, he won’t want for work. He’s a coppiceman, and there’s always work for such."

She looks through the slit in the wall, her lovely face troubled.

"You must help him, dear," Parkus says.

"I love him," she says, speaking very low.

"And he loves you. But what’s coming will be difficult."

"Why must that be, Parkus? Why must life always demand so much and give so little?"

He draws her into his arms and she goes willingly, her face pressed against his chest.

In the dark behind the chamber in which Jack Sawyer sleeps, Parkus answers her question with a single word:

Ka.

Epilogue

SHE SITS BY his bed on the first night of Full-Earth Moon, ten days after her conversation with Parkus in the secret passageway. Outside the pavilion, she can hear children singing "The Green Corn A-Dayo." On her lap is a scrap of embroidery. It is summer, still summer, and the air is sweet with summer’s mystery.

And in this billowing room where his mother’s Twinner once lay, Jack Sawyer opens his eyes.

Sophie lays aside her embroidery, leans forward, and puts her lips soft against the shell of his ear.

"Welcome back," she says. "My heart, my life, and my love: welcome back."


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